Both Cardinal Seán Brady and Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, head of the country’s largest diocese, called for the congregations to rethink their contribution towards compensating abuse victims which was capped at €128 million – about one-tenth of the overall estimated cost – in a controversial deal agreed with the Government in 2002.
But the 18 congregations that were party to the deal, some of which have yet to fully honour its terms, said last night they would not renegotiate it, offering instead only a vague assurance to “find the best and most appropriate ways of directly assisting [abuse survivors]”.
In their first statement on the renewed controversy sparked by the publication of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report, the 18 groups of religious brothers, priests and sisters said jointly: “We again recognise and accept the gravity of the findings and conclusions contained in the Ryan Report.”
But they continued: “Rather than re-opening the terms of the agreement reached with Government in 2002, we reiterate our commitment to working with those who suffered enormously in our care.”
They said they would meet in the coming days to “explore the detail” of what that meant.
Their firm rejection of the growing calls for a revised deal came despite strong words from Archbishop Martin, who said the failure to fully honour the deal seven years on was “stunning” and called for a “new gesture of recognition” from the congregations of the hurt their past members caused.
Cardinal Brady echoed that call, saying the congregations needed to respond publicly to clarify the reasons behind the 2002 deal and what steps could be taken to revisit it.
“This response should be centred on the needs of those who have survived and if that entails revisiting the agreement with the Government, then so be it,” said Cardinal Brady.
Both men were speaking at a private meeting of bishops in Maynooth to plan the agenda for their annual summer meeting scheduled to take place next month.
Afterwards, they did not respond directly to the rejection of the 18 congregations, but issued a statement on behalf of all the bishops saying: “We will work closely with religious congregations and institutes in addressing the needs of survivors of abuse.”
The Church split came as the cabinet prepared to meet today to discuss the fallout from the abuse report and receive advice from the Attorney General on the possibility of forcing the congregations to reopen the 2002 deal.
The cabinet has also displayed divisions over the deal with Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe, who administers it, ruling out renegotiation, while Taoiseach Brian Cowen said no decision could be made in advance of legal advice.
Labour’s justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said last night the cabinet needed to reject the stance of the 18 congregations which he described as a “calculated snub to public opinion” and a “further insult” to victims.
“The Taoiseach should today publicly invite them to meet him to discuss the deal and to consider the way in which the injustice done to victims of abuse and to the Irish taxpayers can be redressed,” he said.
Meanwhile, gardaí have begun examining the abuse report to see if any criminal proceedings should be commenced, but Commissioner Fachtna Murphy warned the length of time since the abuse was perpetrated would make prosecutions difficult.
THIS is the face of the man who spent his life campaigning to highlight abuse at Letterfrack industrial school.
The original whistle-blower, he wrote to politicians, priests and presidents as far back as the 1950s in his quest to have the school investigated.
The brick walls he faced proved too much, however, and in 1967, he burnt himself to death, the only identification a half-torn letter beside his corpse.
His name is Peter Tyrrell and more than 40 years on from his death, he remains airbrushed from public record, just another pseudonym in the recently published report into child abuse.
According to Dr Diarmuid Whelan, the man who finally published Tyrrell’s story in 2006, by not using his real name in the final report, the commission has “unjustly censored” his memory.
“It seems an incredible pity that the need to protect two perverts should deny the most elementary right of the first brave recorded voice against these abuses.”